Our second year as full-time Airstream dwellers/digital nomads/travelers has come and gone. We added a few new states to our travel map (North Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho), crossed the northern border for the first time (it won’t be the last time), and traveled 7,607 miles (just 61 miles less than last year). Our longest drive day was 377 miles and our shortest was 6.5 miles. We averaged $46.63/night in lodging costs, thanks to spending 45 days in a condo/hotels at various times throughout the year while our converter was fixed, solar panels were installed, and modifications were done to the interior.
We continued to learn more about ourselves, our Airstream, our country, and the nomadic lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our second year on the road:
We visited 13 National Park Service sites, with 8 of them being new to us:
We also revisited Death Valley, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Mount Rushmore.
With our return visit to South Dakota, we were able to conquer the remaining 3 sites of South Dakota’s Great 8, the other 5 of which we saw last summer:
The other 5 are Mount Rushmore, Badlands National Park, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park and the Missouri River.
We hiked, and hiked, and hiked…
and paddled, and paddled, and paddled…
and soaked, and soaked, and soaked.
We chased waterfalls…
but we also stuck to the rivers…
and the lakes that we’re (not) used to.
We drank beer…
We rode a gondola in Palm Springs…
and one in Banff.
(Have I mentioned I don’t like gondolas?)
We saw where Forrest Gump ended his run…
and where Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff.
We saw lots of wildlife…
and visited the geographic center of the country.
We added four new tires,
two new batteries,
four new solar panels,
and a couch and a desk.
We had visitors in Las Vegas; Hurricane, UT; Custer, SD; and Glacier National Park:
Our second year on the road was fantastically fun and memorable, even with the issues we encountered. (I’m looking at you flat tire and junk converter.) All of the inconveniences we deal with are by far worth the amazing places we get to experience. Thanks for following along and we hope you stick around for 2020, our third year on the road — although we’re not really sure what’s in store yet!
We had Ultimate Airstreams do some much-needed modifications to our 2017 27′ International Signature Airstream. We lived in it for a year and a half and decided to make some changes in order to make it more full-time friendly. We contacted Ultimate Airstreams back in April to discuss the changes we’d like make and to schedule an appointment. We worked with Ian to design a new layout that would work better for us and we dropped the Airstream off on September 3rd for a five-week renovation.
The factory-installed Airstream ‘couches’ are notoriously uncomfortable. Airstreams are not designed for full-time living, and the seating is a good indicator of that. The most important aspect in our new layout was having a comfortable couch. Like, a real couch. And that’s what Ultimate Airstreams did. Our couch actually started as a couch from IKEA that was manipulated and altered to fit into the Airstream. The cushions were reupholstered with a durable vinyl material that looks very much like leather in the Vintage Pretzel color. To replace the storage that was lost under each bench seat, two large drawers were installed under the couch. While the couch no longer converts to a bed, it is large enough for one person to sleep on, if needed. There are cup holders in the arms of the couch and two pop-up outlets behind it — one inverter and one regular. We absolutely love our couch and are finally able to watch TV in comfort!
The long bench seat was never really utilized in our Airstream — hardly anybody ever sat on it and nobody every slept on it. We replaced it with a desk, which has really changed our daily life. After about 21 months of setting up and breaking down the 27″ iMac every day, or leaving it sitting on the dinette table where it always seemed to be in the way, we finally have a functioning ‘office’. We are full timers that still work full time. There’s no end in sight for living the full-time lifestyle, so we needed to make our space work better for us. Thanks to the modifications, we have a dedicated work space by day and a comfortable lounging space by night that allows us both to see the TV without having to put the computer away every evening. We chose a butcher block top for the desk, which looks great alongside the cabinets and couch. When designing the desk, a must for me was to have a pull-out garbage can. The Airstream came with one tiny, under-sink garbage — again, not really meant for full-time living. We had a full-size garbage that would sit in front of the pantry, but we had to move it any time we wanted to open the pantry. Super annoying. We now have an out-of-sight, out-of-mind garbage as well as a drawer for storage above it.
(And because I always get at least one message asking about how we store the iMac while traveling whenever I post about it, read this blog post about the case we use and where we store while under tow.)
We purchased the desk chair from the Laura Davidson website. It’s a knockoff of the ridiculously priced Herman Miller Eames Soft Pad chair. It comes with rolling casters on it, but the website also sells these stationary glides. In order to keep the chair secure while towing, Kenny at Ultimate Airstreams installed hooks to which we attach a bungee cord that is wrapped around the base of the chair.
They found a new home for the fire extinguisher that always seemed to be in the way (Max’s collar got caught on it a couple of times.) They also fixed a few things that had been on our to-do list — replaced missing rivets, replaced the broken bathroom doorknob, made our door easier to open and close (it previously took a lot of muscle), and fixed our awning LED lights that have never worked.
We are beyond thrilled with the finished product! Ian and Kenny were fantastic to work with and they actually finished the project almost a week ahead of schedule, so we were able to pick it up early. Ultimate Airstreams is located in Clackamas, Oregon and is owned by Airstream Adventures Northwest, the five Airstream dealerships located in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and NorCal. If you dream it up, they can make it happen! We’ve been living in our newly remodeled trailer for a week and a half now and have commented almost daily about how nice it is and how we wish we would have done it sooner. However, waiting so long let us figure out exactly what we wanted/needed.
While Ultimate Airstreams was working on our home, we rented a condo in Portland for five weeks. It was located in the South Waterfront neighborhood, which is a clean, quiet neighborhood along the Willamette River. There’s a really nice, dog-friendly green space along the river, a farmer’s market every Thursday night in the neighborhood park, a few shops, an Orange Theory Fitness (which we both joined for a month), and a handful of food options within a few blocks of where we stayed, which was the The John Ross building.
We didn’t venture out as much as we would have liked for a few reasons: We were busy with work; I (Missy) took a trip to Wisconsin to visit family; and the parking situation wasn’t ideal. The building has underground parking, but it’s not really built for a large truck. We technically fit without scraping the ceiling, but the assigned parking spots are very snug. If other cars were parked around us, it took both of us to get in and out of the spot — Travis driving and me directing him through a 27-point turn so we didn’t hit anybody. Not really ideal for exploring the city. However, we did make it to the following sites:
Washington Park: Home to the Hoyt Arboretum, International Rose Test Garden, Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, World Forestry Center, and the Portland Japanese Garden, the latter of which we spent a decent amount of time at. The Japanese Garden is laid out so beautifully and is very serene. We grabbed a bite for lunch at their Umami Cafe. I would definitely put this on the list as a must-see when visiting Portland!
The Pearl District: It’s only about a 10-minute drive from South Waterfront to this neighborhood where you’ll find Powell’s Books, Deschutes Brewery, trendy boutiques, big-name stores, restaurants, bars, breweries, coffee shops, and galleries. There’s also a Whole Foods with an Amazon Locker where we had a package sent. If we were to recommend an area for someone to stay who is going to visit Portland, this is it.
Cannon Beach: It’s a little over an hour and half drive to Cannon Beach from Portland. It was a much needed and enjoyed trip by all three of us.
Studio One Theaters: A luxury movie theater with a more personal vibe. Our particular theater was set up and decorated like a New York penthouse.
We know there is so much more to explore in Portland and hope to get back some day to do so. After picking up the Airstream from Ultimate Airstreams, we stayed at Pheasant Ridge RV Park, about 20 minutes south of Portland. We spent a few days there while moving back into the Airstream and getting everything organized. We’d highly recommend Pheasant Ridge as a basecamp while the visiting the Portland area. Read our review here.
When we bought the Airstream in June of 2017, we had the dealership install two 100w flex solar panels. We never upgraded the batteries to anything beyond what was installed at the factory, and even after replacing those first batteries with a new set (of the same), they were never able to hold a charge like we would need to successfully function without shore power (that’s what RVers call an electric hookup). We talked about upgrading the batteries for a while, and in doing research, found that our flex panels don’t generally have a long life expectancy either. In April, after 15 months on the road, we decided we wanted to add two more solar panels and upgrade to lithium batteries. We knew we were missing out on one of the benefits of this lifestyle, which is to be able to stay places without having to hook up. There are so many options out there for boondocking, especially in the West. We wanted to have the convenience and flexibility to be able to subsist for a few nights and not have to depend on electricity. We scheduled an appointment for late August with AM Solar in Springfield, Oregon, who we found to have rave reviews.
We originally were going to have them install just two 100w rigid panels, but decided to have them replace the flex panels as well. We now have four 100w rigid panels. We swapped our crappy batteries for two Battle Born 12v 100Ah lithium batteries. Our original converter has been disconnected and replaced with two lithium-compatible chargers. To complete the upgrade, a Victron battery monitor system was installed so we can monitor our battery levels as well as our solar input on our phones in the Victron app.
There are two big decisions that need to be made when upgrading solar and batteries: Lithium vs AGM batteries and Fixed vs Portable solar panels. You should make these decisions based on how YOU are going to use YOUR rig – don’t worry about how other people are using theirs. We weren’t looking to be able to live off grid 100% of the time, though we are fully capable of doing that now, but to have the flexibility and convenience to make decisions about where we stay independent of whether or not there’s an electric hook up. Sometimes we want full hookups, other times we don’t. We have a great setup now for the times we don’t.
There are some solar purists out there that feel that anything other than portable solar panels are a waste of money. Again, this depends on how you’re going to use your rig. For the non-RVers out there, when you park a trailer in direct sun, it gets hot inside. Alternatively, when you park in the shade, it stays cooler. For the people that like to stay off grid regularly, being able to park in the shade but still receive sun on the solar panels is a necessity. In cases like this, one would need to have portable solar panels that are plugged into the RV by a long cord, but sit on the ground and are able to be moved around and adjusted as needed in reference to where the sun is in the sky. We don’t like heat. When it’s hot, we like to use our air conditioning. In order to use a/c, we need to have an electric hookup as our inverter does not support running a/c. It’s possible to install an inverter powerful enough that will allow you to run a/c strictly off of battery power as opposed to shore power, but it’s very pricy, and as I said, we aren’t looking to go off grid permanently so it’s unnecessary for us. If it’s hot, we like to be on shore power. Therefore, we don’t need to be able to park in the shade and still get sun to our solar panels. We’ll save our dependent-on-solar-panels days for cooler temps that allow us to sit in direct sun without feeling like we’re slowing baking inside our Airstream.
Wholesale Solar has a great blog post that explains lithium vs AGM batteries better than I ever could, so please click here to read it if this topic interests you. For us, the deciding factors were that lithium has a much greater depth of discharge, a faster charge rate, and a longer lifespan.
So, what exactly what can we do with our fancy new batteries and solar panels? We recently spent about 24 hours at a Harvest Hosts to try our new system out. We made dinner in the oven, watched hours of TV, had the furnace kick in a few times, ran the fridge on propane, charged cell phones, used the water pump as needed, turned on lights, and used the stove to heat water for the French press. The lowest our batteries got to was 78%, and seeing as they can safely get down to 20% and we were not holding back on using power, we were very impressed. Even though it was raining when we hitched up and rained for about half of our 4-hour drive, we were back up to 100% when we reached our next destination, thanks to our solar panels.
While this project was not cheap, to us, the convenience it provides and the money we can save boondocking is worth every penny. The staff at AM Solar are consummate professionals and did an amazing job. Everything is under warranty for an unheard of seven years, so we have peace of mind that if any issues should arise in years to come, AM Solar has our back!
The day before we dropped the Airstream off at AM Solar, we pulled into a campground in Cascade Locks, Oregon and noticed an odd rattling sound coming from the wheel area on the passenger side of the Airstream. Travis crawled underneath to see if he could see what was going on, but didn’t see anything obvious. Seeing as there was nothing we could do where we currently were, we hitched up the next day and continued to Springfield with bated breath. We knew there was an Airstream dealership/service center in Portland, so figured that was going to be our best option. After we dropped the Airstream off at AM Solar, we drove to our hotel in downtown Eugene. Along the way, we noticed a billboard for Sutton RV, the ‘Pacific Northwest’s Original Airstream Dealership’ which was located in Eugene.
Guys, this is the second time we’ve had an issue with the Airstream and both times we happened to be in a city with an Airstream dealership/service center. What are the odds?
We called them the next morning, which was a Monday. We explained our situation: weird noise; full timers; Airstream currently at AM Solar until Thursday; Airstream would be dropped off at Ultimate Airstreams the following Tuesday. It was a small window of time. They were busy. It was short notice. BUT, they told us to bring it in Thursday and they would look at it to at least diagnose the problem. We cancelled the first night of our RV park stay and extended our hotel stay one night. We picked the trailer up Thursday from AM Solar and drove 15 minutes to Sutton RV. Just 2.5 hours later we got a call saying one of our brakes was basically shredded and needed to be replaced. They had the part and the Airstream would be fixed and ready to go Friday afternoon. Yay! We were able to pick the Airstream up 24 hours after dropping it off and continue on our way to Portland. Kelly at Sutton RV did us a solid and was awesome to work with. While we hope we never have to see them again, we know we’d receive fantastic service from a hard-working and honest service department if a problem were to arise in their area again.
While AM Solar was working on the Airstream and Sutton RV fixed our brake issue, we stayed at the Home 2 Suites in Eugene. While the hotel was very nice – suite with kitchenette, indoor pool, free breakfast, free laundry, decent fitness center – I would not stay there again. There’s a very large transient population in downtown Eugene, which made us feel a little uncomfortable walking around. After living in San Diego for a while, homelessness is not unfamiliar to us, but we saw some really nasty things that were pretty off putting. Our recommendation for anyone getting work done at AM Solar that needs to stay in a hotel for a few days would be to stay in Springfield.
Today marks one year since we started living, working and traveling full time in our Airstream. One year ago feels both so incredibly distant, but also like it flew by! We have learned a lot in the last twelve months — about ourselves, about our airstream, and about what we hope to get out of this lifestyle. Here’s a look back at our first year as nomads:
We travelled 7,997 miles across 16 states:
(We spent two isolated, quiet nights in Cedar Point, IA and have nothing to show for it. Sorry, Iowa)
We visited 24 National Park Service sites:
Joshua Tree National Park
Death Valley National Park
Saguaro National Park
Petrified Forest National Park
Badlands National Park
Wind Cave National Park
Glacier National Park
Redwood National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Yosemite National Park
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
Harry S. Truman National Historic Site
Minuteman Missile National Historic Site
Manzanar National Historic Site
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area
…and one ghost town (Bodie, CA)…
…the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, SD)…
…and a cheese factory (Tillamook, OR).
We drank some beer…
…and some liquor…
…and some wine!
We boondocked for the first time in Wisconsin on a family friend’s farm…
…and stayed at a Harvest Hosts for the first time in Nevada.
Travis ran a half marathon in Death Valley…
…and we learned how to play pickle ball.
We did a lot of hiking…
…and a bit of relaxing.
But most importantly, we were able to spend a lot of time with family and friends!
As you can see, it was a great year! We have a lot of amazing adventures planned for 2019, and we look forward to sharing them with you!
I meant to write this post on our 100th day of full-time travel, which was April 24th, but as tends to happen, we got busy and I just didn’t get around to it soon enough, so 109 days will have to work. There are a lot of people out there considering the full-time travel lifestyle or those that are fairly new to it, like us, so I thought I’d share what we’ve learned thus far. Although, I’ve got to be honest – 109 days in and we don’t feel like newbies, even a little bit. It’s amazing how easy it was to adjust to life on the road and how quickly our Airstream began to feel like home.
Things We Thought Would Be Hard and Scary Aren’t So Hard and Scary:
Figuring Out How Everything Works: There are a lot of things that make an Airstream function properly and we got a brief, incredibly overwhelming introduction to them during our walkthrough when we picked the trailer up from the dealership. That was five months before we actually hit the road, so we Googled and YouTubed everything when it came time to travel. Don’t worry – everybody does it. It’s how you learn. You also learn by asking questions of those that are more experienced than yourself. The Airstream Addicts Facebook page and the Air Forum website are great places to get additional information (just know you’ll find lots of opinions there too). Also, the Airstream Instagram community is pretty great as well.
Emptying the Black Tank Isn’t That Bad: While it’s still gross, mainly just because of the odor, it really isn’t as awful as we thought it would be. Just be smart. Only use RV-friendly toilet paper and always drop a tank treatment packet in each time it’s emptied. We empty it about once a week and always give it a good flushing with the hose.
Hitching Up: This was probably the scariest thing for us. If you screw up hitching up, you can cause serious damage to your trailer and your tow vehicle. Go slow, have two sets of eyes on everything, and YouTube what needs to be YouTubed until you don’t need to YouTube anymore. A lot of people have checklists, but both of us knowing what needs to be done and double checking everything before we take off seems to work just fine for us.
Towing: You know how I said hitching up was probably the scariest for us? Well, I lied. Towing is scary, but it’s a lot less scary now after doing it for over 3000 miles. Unfortunately, the things that make it scariest (other drivers) are out of our control. People will constantly pass you on the highway – get used to it and don’t let it distract you. They’ll cut you off. They’ll sit in your blindspot. For anyone out there who has never known the fear of towing a 28′ trailer — be considerate and give these vehicles lots of space. Also, you will most likely learn to hate semi drivers. Travis has done all of the towing so far. I plan to get behind the wheel at some point, because we think it’s important for both of us to be able to do it. When purchasing a tow vehicle, get every option available to make towing easier. With our Ford F-150, the trailer break and blind spot monitoring are essential. Some people may feel the Trailer Backup Assist is too, but we’ve never used it.
Backing Up: Here’s the thing about backing up – it hurts your brain – but once you’ve figured out which direction and how far to turn the wheel, it’s easy enough. Speed is your enemy. Go slow and make small adjustments along the way so you don’t get yourself in a situation that’s hard to get out of. Figure out if hand signals or walkie-talkies or using driver side/passenger side versus left/right works for you and go with it. And never, ever get mad at your partner for the words that come out of their mouth while backing up the trailer. By the way, we opt for the pull-throughs when available.
Things We’ve Learned About Our Airstream:
Many people will tell you to buy a used Airstream that’s a few years old so that all of the issues have been worked out of it. We felt it was important to buy new so that we knew exactly what the trailer has been through and how it’s been maintained. Just as buying new doesn’t guarantee everything is going to be perfect, buying used doesn’t guarantee all of the kinks will be worked out.
Smoke Detector: Super sensitive. As in, ‘I’m just trying to make some toast in the toaster but the smoke alarm goes off ‘ sensitive. The vent hood gets turned on whenever anything is cooked and we put a shower cap over the smoke detector until the cooking is done. Of course, we never, ever leave the trailer when the stove or oven is on and we always remove the shower cap immediately.
Fresh Water Tank: The fresh water tank is literally under lock and key as you need to unlock a small access door in order to fill it. Our fresh water tank, however, likes to fill on its own while we’re hooked up to city water. This apparently is an issue many Airstreamers encounter and is due to a faulty valve on the autofill relay (whatever that means). We know how to temporarily remedy the issue, but will have it looked at at some point in the future. It’s important to check the level of your tanks regularly. If you notice your supposedly empty freshwater tank is taking on water or is full, turn the city water off at the spigot. Turn the water pump on and use up the water that’s in the fresh water tank. You can then turn the city water back on and hopefully the issue is corrected. I know some people avoid this issue by strictly using the water pump and others turn their water off when away from their trailer so they don’t have to worry about an overflow situation. If you ever return to your trailer and see water pouring out of the area where the tanks are located, this is probably the issue.
Windows: They stick and need to be (carefully) unsealed from the outside. Never try to force a window open, as they can shatter. Use a credit card or something similar to stick between the window and the rubber seal, and gently slide it along the bottom of the (unlocked) window until it’s unstuck.
Things We’ve Learned About Living in a Small Space:
We’ve lived in a small space before. When we first moved to San Diego, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment where we also both worked from home, so we’ve experienced tiny home living before as well as spending 24 hours a day together. The transition to the Airstream was not that difficult for us.
When living in a small space, it doesn’t take much for the place to feel messy. Keeping things tidy is essential: Make the beds. Do the dishes. Put things back where they belong immediately. Close cabinet doors and drawers.
There’s Not Much Privacy: You can’t be bashful about bodily functions in an Airstream. There’s a fan in the bathroom that helps mask noise, but there’s no hiding what’s going down in there. There are two curtains that separate the front from the rear of the trailer, so you can get some visual privacy, but not really any sound privacy.
We Downsized Too Much: This probably wouldn’t be the case for most people. Neither Travis nor I are sentimental people. We had no problem throwing away, donating, or selling most of our stuff. The must keep items are in a storage locker in San Diego. The rest fits in the trailer with room to spare. There are a few items that I wish I personally would’ve kept (cute little jean jacket and Grey’s Anatomy DVDs) that definitely would have had a place in the trailer. If you have the luxury of a slow move in, bring everything you want to keep and toss as you realize you don’t have room or a need for something.
Route Planning/Travel Days:
I wish that we could be people who didn’t need to plan our route ahead of time. We own a consulting business and Travis has to travel to visit customers about once a month, so our route planning is a lot less spontaneous than we’d prefer.
We’ve found that we really enjoy State Parks. They typically have a good combination of nature and basic amenities. Every one we’ve stayed at has had water and electric hookups with pretty decent showers, which means you can make your grey tank last longer. The longest we’ve gone without being hooked up to sewer was seven days. The sweet spot is probably is four. State Parks also tend to be pretty dog friendly.
We’ve found that we prefer to drive no more than three hours a day. During our drive to Wisconsin, we were driving up to six hours a day, and that is way too much. It feels like an entire day is wasted and it makes us cranky. Plus, we like to try visit a landmark or attraction of some sort wherever we stay and long travel days can interfere with that.
Keep time zones in mind when figuring out departing and arrival times.
Always keep your eye on the weather a few days in advance for not only where you currently are but also where you’re headed. We once had to make a change when our originally scheduled travel day was forecasted to have 35mph winds with gusts up to 60. No bueno.
Miscellaneous Nuggets of Information:
Always fill fresh water before you hit the road – you never know if the next place is going to have it for sure.
We’ve become champions of short showers. When at a place with decent showers – use them! Washing my hair in our shower is difficult, so I always take advantage of the showers.
We share a towel because there just isn’t a good place to hang two to dry.
There’s a Dollar General in EVERY town/city even if it’s not actually a town or city. Seriously, every one. I started noticing this phenomenon early in our travels when we were on our way to Death Valley and it has held up.
Regardless of what others think, we do NOT feel like we’re on vacation all the time. We still work, do laundry, clean, do the dishes, make the beds, etc.
I’ve always hated having stuff (sweatshirts, empty bottles, etc.) lying around inside the car. I was a firm believer the interior of a car should be clean. Well, that goes out the window when you travel full time. A storage bin, two water cans and a dog backpack live in the backseat of the truck – and I’m okay with that.
If you’re a lover of watching TV, you may want to consider getting satellite. We just use the built-in over-the-air antenna — sometimes it works great, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. We’ve gone as long as six weeks without picking up any channels. That’s where DVDs come in handy.
If you have any questions about things I mentioned above, or things I didn’t mention above, please comment below or send a message and I’ll do my best to address them!
We did not spend one night in our Airstream before we started living in it full time — crazy, right? In the months that led up to our departure date, we scoured the interwebs to determine what things were needed to live and travel in an Airstream. Most items we purchased were hits; some were misses. After six weeks on the road, we’ve realized what’s important, what’s not, and what falls somewhere in between.
The following lists are what work for us in our life in our 2017 27FB International Signature. I have not included anything to do with the towing aspect including tow vehicle, mirrors, back-up camera, hitch, sway control, etc. I’m not posting links of where to find the products as that would take a looooong time, but if you want more info about something, let me know.
You Definitely, 100%, Need These Things:
Sewer Hose Kit
30 Amp Power Cord (included with new Airstream)
Hose for Fresh Water Only (included with new Airstream)
RV Toilet Paper
Tank Treatment Toilet Drop-Ins
Hitch Ball Lube
Disposable Gloves (for Dumping)
The above items will allow you to be fully hooked up, level, not roll away, and avoid poo issues (clogged black tank, stinky toilet, nasty hands) — so, the important stuff.
May Not Need Yet but Definitely Will Some Day:
Sewer Hose Extension
Sewer Hose Support
Hose to Flush Black Tank
50 Amp to 30 Amp Adaptor
When I say some day, I mean some day soon. We lived without these items for a few days, but all but the sewer hose extension were purchased within the first week. The sewer hookup where we are currently staying is at the back of the site, so our original 15′ hose didn’t reach; therefore, we needed an extension. The hose support allows gravity to do it’s job when you empty the gray and black tanks. The hose to flush the black tank is used every time we empty it to get all of the ‘stuff’ washed off the sides of the tank. And the adaptor is used when only 50 Amp service is available, which happened at the first place we stayed.
Don’t NEED, but Should Strongly Consider:
Propane Tank Lock
RV Surge Protector
Tire Pressure Monitoring System
LP Tank Monitoring System
Flexible Hose Protector
If we lived in a perfect world, you wouldn’t need the first two items — but we don’t, so you may want to consider them. The surge protector is a pricy item, but what’s even pricier is if you hook up to a bad current and it fries the electrical items in your Airstream. The tire pressure monitoring system is also a little pricy. If you don’t want to invest in it at this time, do make sure to purchase a tire pressure gauge and check the tires before every trip. There’s a lot of weight on those tires and they need to be topped off often, especially if they’re sitting in the sun. The LP tank monitoring system is so you know how much propane you have left. Some people may like to chance it, but we want to make sure we don’t run out on a night with below-freezing temps. For us, the water filter falls under necessity, but doesn’t for everyone. We don’t drink the water out of the faucets, but we do use it to shower, wash our hands, and wash the dishes, so we want the water to be clean. We hook the filter up at the spigot-end of the hose so that only filtered water runs through our hose.
Don’t Need, but Make Life Easier:
Small Air Compressor
Security Cables and Locks
Assorted Bungees and Straps
Assorted Baskets and Bins
Assorted Mounting Tape/Hooks (Velcro, 3M, Scotch)
Magnetic Knife Holder
Magnetic Spice Tins
Some people will never use a generator — it all depends on what type of Airstreamer you are. They are expensive, so do not buy one until you need it. We use the (small) wet/dry vac to vacuum out the truck (often) and seal things into Space Bags. We have a small air compressor that we use to fill our tires. The dehumidifier is a ? for us thus far. Airstream owners swear that you need one because moisture = bad, but to date we’ve only been in the Southwest, where the humidity has been 25% at its highest and zero precipitation, so we haven’t needed to use it yet. Security cables and locks are important if you want to lock up your generator or surge protector or whatnot. They aren’t that expensive and they don’t take up a lot of room, so you can have them on hand if the need arises. The next four items are all about organization and securing things. For instance, we have our generator and gas can strapped in in the bed of our truck so they don’t slide around when we travel. We’ve used various (removable) hooks throughout the trailer, velcro to hold rugs in place, (removable) 3M tape to hang things on the wall, and museum putty to keep light things on the counter in place. And baskets — so many baskets! For DVDs and office supplies and toiletries and basically anywhere a basket fits. The last two items get items out of the kitchen drawers/cabinets and into an otherwise dead space. We mounted the knife holder above our stove and have the spice tins stuck on the vent hood.
So, that’s it — the important stuff, anyways! Of course, there’s still the camping stuff (propane grill, chairs, cooler, etc.) and the hiking stuff (backpacks, boots, headlamps, etc.) and the appliances (coffee maker, InstantPot, travel iron, etc.) and work-related stuff (printer and Gator Case for the iMac), but those are individual choices only you can make.
The number one thing that most people want to know when we tell them we live in our Airstream and travel full time is what do we do for work.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, we own an ERP consulting business that we started six years ago. We’ve worked from home for the last six years, so there wasn’t a dramatic work-related lifestyle change when we decided to begin traveling. We did, however, search out the best products, devices, and services that would allow us to continue working remotely without interruption.
We have three AT&T cell phones (two personal, one business) with unlimited data. We also have one Verizon cell phone (which is a spare) with unlimited data. We are able to use these as hotspots when needed. It’s nice to have options, as the cell signals can differ significantly between the two companies. A bonus with the AT&T phones is that we can stream HBO on DirecTV Now and it doesn’t count against our data usage. With the Verizon phone, we get NFL Mobile, so we never have to miss a Packer game! All of the phones are supposed to slow down after using 22GB, but we’ve maxed out on one of the phones this month and have not noticed a slow down where we’re currently staying.
Verizon Jetpack 6620L MiFi
The MiFi is a wireless router that acts as a mobile wifi hotspot. We also have unlimited data with this, but once we hit 15GB, it’s supposed to be throttled to 600kbps. You can find more information about the MiFi here, although our particular version is no longer available.
WeBoost RV Cellular Signal Booster
We bought the weBoost Drive 4G-X RV signal booster to help boost our cell and data signals in areas where they may be lacking. From their website: “The Drive 4G-X RV is our powerful in-vehicle cell phone signal booster kit certified for use anywhere in the US. The Drive 4G-X RV boosts voice and data with max FCC-allowed 50 dB system gain, enhancing 4G LTE, as well as 3G network signals, up to 32x. RVers get fewer lost connections and dead zones, better call quality as well as faster data uploads and downloads whether parked or in motion in their RV. Works in all classes of RV; Class A, Class C and all towables.” An antenna needs to be installed on the top of the trailer and is connected to an indoor desktop antenna. We’ve noticed that you need to be within a few feet of the indoor antenna in order for the signal to be boosted, which generally works fine as the antenna is in the storage compartment above the kitchen table. When we’re in the bedroom in the back of the trailer, we generally have a weaker signal. You can find our particular model here.
Travis uses a 27″ iMac 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 with 32GB of RAM and a 3TB Fusion Drive. When we are towing, the iMac gets secured in a Gator Cases Tote Bag, available from Amazon here. The bag fits perfectly in the space at the end of his bed so we don’t need to worry about it sliding around at all. I use a 13″ MacBook Pro 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 with 16GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD Drive.
We found the perfect printer for our needs! We purchased the HP OfficeJet 250 All-in-One Portable Printer with Wireless & Mobile Printing. It wirelessly scans, copies and prints (in color, if needed). It has a battery so it only needs to be plugged in occasionally to charge. The best part?! It easily fits in the drawer beneath the bench along with packs of paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
When you don’t have a permanent physical home address, you can establish residency (your domicile) in any state. Some states are better than others for this purpose. The three most popular states for full-time travelers to establish residency are South Dakota, Texas, and Florida. These states don’t have a state income tax and they are also pretty lenient as to what is required to establish residency. We chose to make South Dakota our domicile for a couple of reasons:
As we own a consulting business that we will continue to operate while traveling, South Dakota not having a corporate income tax was a big draw.
Once residency is established, you only have to spend one night in South Dakota every five years. This requirement aligns with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
There are no vehicle inspections in South Dakota. Some states require vehicles and/or travel trailers to be inspected once a year. This requirement may interfere with the go-with-the-flow nomadic lifestyle of full-time travelers.
We are originally from Wisconsin, where the majority of our family still lives, and plan to visit there regularly. South Dakota’s proximity to Wisconsin will make it easy for us to make our required residency visit.
Other things to consider when choosing a domicile are vehicle registration rates, sales tax rates, health insurance rates, and vehicle insurance rates. As we are coming from San Diego, EVERY aspect of transitioning to South Dakota is more affordable for us – yay for us!
How To Establish Domicile
Set Up an Address
The first step in setting up a domicile is to establish a PMB (private mailbox) with a mail forwarding service. You will use this address as your legal address for everything – registering vehicles, drivers license, banking, tax returns, voting, etc. We chose Americas Mailbox in Box Elder, SD, just outside of Rapid City. This is a legal residential address, not a PO Box. In addition to receiving your mail, they help with registering vehicles, getting registered to vote, and getting you in touch with contacts regarding vehicle insurance, health insurance, accountants, and attorneys.
It was very easy to get our mailbox set up. We sent in the required information from their application checklist, which is found on their website, and our mailbox was set up literally the day they received our information.
When they receive mail for us, they will scan the exterior of each piece and upload it to their website. We will determine what mail can be tossed and what should be sent to us. They will then send us our mail when we request it.
Americas Mailbox also has a vehicle checklist with the information needed to register your vehicles. I emailed the information to them, they emailed me back with the registration cost, and I sent them a money order along with original copy of the title and a notarized power of attorney giving them the power to register our vehicles on our behalf. The license plates and registration were sent to our mailbox at Americas Mailbox, which we picked up on our recent trip to Rapid City. You DO NOT need to have a South Dakota driver’s license in order to register your vehicles.
Obtain Driver’s License
This, of course, needs to be done in person. Show up at a Driver Exam Station with the following items:**
Current Driver’s License
Proof of Social Security Number (only if current license does not have a gold star in upper right corner) such as social security card, W-2, 1099, or pay stub.
Passport or other proof of lawful status in the U.S.
Hotel/Campground Receipt (dated within the last year) – We stayed at the onsite hotel at Americas Mailbox and they gave us a receipt that had both of our full names on it for this purpose.
PMB Receipt – Americas Mailbox gave us the exact printout we needed.
Marriage Certificate (only if name has changed at some point in your life)
DD-214 (only if you want ‘Veteran’ to be printed on your license)
Once at the exam station (where an exam is not required if you have a current, valid license), you fill out an application. You then step up to the counter, hand over your documents, sign a Residency Affidavit stating you intend to return to South Dakota after being absent, perform a quick eye test, get your picture taken, sign the electronic pad, and then you’re handed your new driver’s license. Southern Californians are used to blocking an entire day for the DMV, so the fact that this only took about 20 minutes was amazing – we didn’t even need an appointment!
**Verify needed documents at the SD Department of Public Safety here or by calling (605) 773-6883. Make sure to tell them you have a PMB address.
Get quotes from numerous insurance companies and make sure they know you’re going to be a full-time traveler.
Honestly, this is on the to-do list. Travis is a veteran, so he has insurance through the VA. As we are self-employed, we pay for my health insurance out of pocket. Americas Mailbox gave us a couple of contacts for agents in South Dakota. I’ve also done some research on my own and have one company in mind that seems like it would be a good fit. And the third avenue I’ll explore is the RVer Insurance Exchange website, which has been suggested on other full timer’s blogs.
Move Our Business
Our business is currently registered in California, but our attorney is in the process of getting it registered in South Dakota. Once that is done, the business will be ‘closed’ in California. While you can most likely take care of this on your own, we have peace of mind knowing that everything is being done properly and legally.
Choosing the layout, decor, and features for our Airstream was a little stressful. We’ve never spent a night in an Airstream, so we’re going into the Streamin’ life as newbies and aren’t quite sure what our needs or wants will be.
After looking at a few different trailers, we decided fairly easily on the layout we wanted. We chose the 27 length (which is actually 28 feet) because we didn’t want the trailer to be too long that we’d have difficulty pulling or parking it, but wanted to make sure we had plenty of space. We knew we wanted the twin beds vs the queen bed after seeing how much room the twin beds give you, as well as more sleeping surface per person. We were debating between a Flying Cloud and an International, mostly because of the price, but opted for the International as the interior finishes are nicer and more our style. The rest of the decor features, such as a Signature vs a Serenity and the color package, were basically decided for us when we found a 2017 International Signature 27FB with twin beds in Ebony Oyster Ultraleather Décor at the dealership. To be honest, if we had had a choice, we would have chosen the Signature over the Serenity and the Ebony Oyster over the other two color options any way. We’re extremely happy we got the exact trailer we were looking for.
**Above photos from airstream.com**
Just as when you purchase a vehicle, there are many optional features that can be added to an Airstream trailer. Our trailer already had the optional powered (as opposed to manual) awning installed, as well as the rear and roadside window awnings. The trailers are pre-wired for solar panels and we knew this was a must for us because we would be living and working in the trailer and needed all of the power we could get. We opted for the 200w Flex solar package. We also chose to have a Blue Ox SwayPro hitch installed in order to distribute the weight of the trailer better as well as help control sway while towing. The third option we chose was to have Maxxair vent covers installed on each ceiling vent. These vent covers allow for the vents to remain open at all times circulating air, including while towing and when it’s raining. One thing we did not opt for at this time was the rear view monitoring system (back-up camera). We were unsure if we needed this, but since the trailer is prewired for it, it can be installed at a future date if we deem it necessary. There are many more optional features available, but most are luxuries that are a little ridiculous, like a dishwasher.
Travis and I have talked about a life on the road for quite some. We finally found ourselves in the right position to follow through, but then the question was, ‘Where do we begin?’
If you’ve determined that an Airstream is the type of travel trailer you want, the best place to start is the Airstream website. Download the brochure and look at the different lengths, layouts, and finishes to determine what is best for you. As we are planning to eventually live in our Airstream fulltime, we determined the 27 would probably be the best fit for us.
The next thing you need to do is to see a range of trailers in person. Even if you don’t plan on buying new, go to the nearest dealership that sells Airstreams to get a better feel for the size and layouts, as well as the MSRP – if it’s a strictly Airstream dealership, even better. Be upfront with the dealer and say that you’ve just begun looking and are really only there to get a better idea of the options available. I’m sure ‘just looking’ turns into ‘just buying’ often enough that the dealer shouldn’t feel discouraged or that they are wasting their time.
We live in San Diego and went to a nearby RV dealership that carries Airstreams so we could get a feel for them. We spent some time looking at every trailer they had, noting which models and lengths we liked best. We left feeling a little more educated and much more confident about the exact layout we wanted, but still kept our minds open to the various possibilities.
As a brand new anything is considerably more expensive than a used anything, we also looked on RVtrader.com to see if there was anything available anywhere near us. We found a 2012 Flying Cloud 27FB with twin beds (more about the twin beds later) listed for sale in Orange County. We contacted the seller and setup a time to come see it. After looking at the trailer, which was in great condition for a 5-year-old trailer, we decided that we’d rather buy new. After all, this was going to be our primary residence in the near future. We felt more comfortable with something no one else has ever used (or abused). We wanted to be the first to sleep on the mattresses and the first to, ahem, use the lavatory. Also, after seeing the Flying Cloud, we decided we wanted to go with an International, which is one step up. The interior finishes are a little more chic in an International and a little less RV-ish.
The dealership we visited in San Diego didn’t have any models with twin beds on their lot. The reason we chose twins instead of the queen option is that there isn’t much room to move around the queen bed. With twins, there’s a decent-sized aisle between the beds that allows for a place to change in the ‘bedroom’. There also more sleeping surface per person with the twins. A queen is 60” x 75” and each twin is 34” x 78” – so each person gets four more inches in width and three more inches in length. There’s also a little more storage space both inside and out, which is definitely at a premium in Airstreams. We contacted the gentleman we worked with at the dealership to see what it would take to get an International 27FB trailer with twin beds. He said we would have to order it, which comes with a fee, and that it’d have to be a 2018, which means more $$$.
We looked online at other dealerships and found that the Orange County Airstream dealer had the EXACT trailer we were looking for. As we had just driven to Orange County the day before, we really didn’t want to drive up there again if we weren’t going to get the price we were looking for. Those of you that are familiar with Southern California traffic understand why. We called the dealer to see if we could discuss price over the phone. They said absolutely not; that’s not how they do business. They assured us that we would not be disappointed with the price if we made the trip. We said we’d make the trip the next day. We did not. They called us to check in. We again reiterated how we did not want to waste a half of a day driving if we weren’t going to get the price we wanted. They asked what our price was. We told them. They said they’d give us a call back. When they called back they explained the pricing structure (what they paid, how much they need to profit on each unit, etc.) and offered their very best price – the absolute lowest they could go. As it was just a sliver under 20 percent off the MSRP, we accepted! We drove up the next day to take a look at our new Airstream and take care of the paperwork. The dealer we worked with said that was the best discount he’s ever seen on a trailer! (Of course, he might say that to everyone.)
Coming soon….choosing optional features for the Airstream and deciding on what truck to buy.